Venezuela is officially a multi-party, constitutional republic, but since the turn of the century, President Hugo Chávez and then his successor, Nicolás Maduro, concentrated power in the executive branch. In 2004, the Chávez-controlled National Assembly conducted a political takeover of the Supreme Court, at which point the judiciary ceased to function as an independent branch of government.
As the recently-released State Department Human Rights Report shows, with this imbalance of power came a culture of government intimidation, persecution, and criminal prosecution of political rivals and critics. This state of events, as well as a continuing erosion of human rights, persists to this day.
The government has expanded and abused its powers to regulate media and has harassed and intimidated independent media and journalists using threats, fines, property seizures, arrests, criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Security forces also detained and interrogated a number of journalists, and confiscated their equipment.
The government continued to restrict the operations of non-governmental organizations, denying them the ability to accept funds from international sources.
The government also cracked down on freedoms of speech and of assembly. In 2016, protestors were arrested and prosecuted for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Some of those arrested claimed to have been beaten, tortured, and forced to sign false confessions while in detention.
While conducting raids in low-income and immigrant communities, government security forces allegedly committed extrajudicial killings, mass arbitrary detentions, maltreatment of detainees, forced evictions, the destruction of homes and arbitrary deportations.
The Venezuelan government sometimes took steps to punish lower-ranking government officials who committed abuses, but there were few investigations or prosecutions of senior government officials. Impunity remained a serious concern in the security forces.
Other concerns include poor prison conditions, rampant corruption at every level of government, and continuous harassment of human rights defenders. There were also numerous reports of violence against women, employment discrimination based on political preference and restrictions on workers’ right of association.
The United States urges the Venezuelan government to comply with its constitution. President Maduro should permit the democratically-elected National Assembly to perform its constitutional functions, and should hold elections as soon as possible. The United States also calls for the immediate release of political prisoners in Venezuela, including Leopoldo Lopez.
Promoting human rights and democratic governance is a core element of U.S. foreign policy, said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The Human Rights Report demonstrates the United States’ unwavering commitment to advancing liberty, human dignity, and global prosperity around the world, including in Venezuela.